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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Bizarre Marketing Decisions, or, Why You Should Never Judge a Book by its Cover

I don't tend to read many romance novels, not because I disdain the genre, but because I have such a hard time finding books that I like. For whatever reason, I'm more skilled at identifying and avoiding dross in the mystery and scifi genres than in romance. Which is why I like Smart Bitches Trashy Books, and when, in one of the comment threads, I read about a romance novel with a "meta" twist, I immediately ordered it from Amazon: Hero Worship by Dawn Calvert.

Meet Andi. Tired of all the bad dates she has suffered, she decides one night to curl up with a regency romance containing a hero she considers to be her ideal man. One wish later, she is actually in the book, meeting this man. The problem? She's not the heroine, she's just a minor character (and a simpering, weak-willed one at that). The rest of the book is about her attempt to change the story so she gets the man, fighting both an author who has decided on another heroine and characters who don't want Andi rocking the boat. If she's lucky, Andi might even end up in another book with an author (like, say, Ms. Calvert) more supportive of her characters' wishes.

Hero Worship is a romance novel, so getting Andi together with her man is the main focus of the book. All the meta, break-the-fourth-wall stuff is just a (novel, heh) way to make that happen. But that doesn't change the fact that it is a neat concept which plays with that old lit-crit idea of who really "creates" a text -- the author? The reader? The characters? Throw in some Barthes and Foucault, maybe some Jauss, and you have the beginnings of a senior thesis.

So what book-cover did the publishers use to illustrate a text that touches on major lit-crit ideas?
I was floored when I first saw the cover. Not only does this cover not give any indication whatsoever of the unusual premise of the book, it doesn't even accurately represent the Regency setting; men of the early 19th century did not loll around naked very often; certainly there is no naked lolling in the book itself. At most, this cover indicates that the book is in the romance genre, but it does even that badly. Where are the watercolors? The windswept hair? The wild moors and rearing horses and swooning heroines? If the publishers wanted to ensure that people could identify at a glance this book as a romance novel (with no attention paid to its unusual elements, because who cares about the individual book itself), surely they could have gone whole hog and had a proper "clinch" cover. Instead, we get the torso of a not-very-interesting man staring blankly into the distance on a beige (beige!) background. FAIL.

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